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Build a satellite at summer camp? At Capitol, you can!

With the school year coming to a close, students from across Maryland are gearing up for summer camps and other activities. For teens enrolled in a program offered by Capitol College, the season brings a unique opportunity to learn about designing and building picosatellites.

The Do-It-Yourself Satellite Workshop, scheduled from July 7th through 9th, will be led by Alex "Sandy" Antunes, author of three books on the topic, and Angela Walters, chair of the astronautical engineering department. Participants will form teams and come up with their project ideas, then manufacture cubesats using parts created with a 3-D printer. Finally, their handiwork will be launched into the sky via balloon.

It's a unique summer camp experience that few other institutions are able to offer. And it's completely free of charge.

"This will be the second year that we've done this," explained Meghan Young, director of admissions operations at Capitol. "It's a free camp, lasting three days, and we provide lunch. For kids and their parents who are looking for an interesting, STEM-focused summer activity, it's a pretty neat opportunity."

"Participants are going to be able to  say 'I built this satellite and launched it'. And as they move forward to college, they'll be able to see how what they learned in the camp can benefit them in their educational field and in their careers," Young said.

Projects to replicate actual mission conditions

The DIY Satellite Workshop, while open to all high school students regardless of academic background, is likely to appeal most strongly to those with an interest in space or engineering. Teams will be applying the same kinds of principles and processes that are used in real-life satellite missions, department chair Walters said.

"They'll be getting an idea of the systems approach, the big picture, and they're gaining some hands-on experience with actual picosatellite assembly, as well as the understanding that there are certain restrictions -- that is, you can't just put anything together and launch it," she said. "Dr. Antunes and I will have to sign off on the weight and power, just as in a real mission.

"The students are free, for the most part, to come up with their idea of what they would like to do with a cubesat," she said. "But again, as in the real world, there are some general questions they'll have to answer -- why is the mission important, and what specifically do you hope to accomplish? So once their satellites have been launched, they'll be able to determine whether the projects were successful."

Though the camp is educational and designed to impart real know-how, organizers say it will also be fun. Along with the presentations and team projects, the schedule also includes satellite-related games and other activities. On the final day of the camp, participants will board a bus for a tour of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

Women engineers welcomed!

National discussion about drawing more women to consider STEM careers is reflected in the camp's goals as well; Capitol is actively working to spread the word among female high school students with an interest in technology.

The DIY workshop also provides an early networking opportunity for aspiring engineers and space scientists. In addition to interacting with faculty and current Astronautical Engineering students, participants will have lunch with industry professionals.

The Maryland Space Business Roundtable is sponsoring the workshop through a grant, with Capitol providing matching funds.

Capitol is uniquely positioned to offer a camp of this kind, according to Young.

"As a small, technology-focused school we're able to focus on providing programs that appeal to budding engineers and space scientists," she said. "We do a lot of things that other, larger schools can't do. Across the state of Maryland, I haven't seen any other college providing a space-related camp like this one. Sandy [Antunes] and Angela [Walters] are passionate about what they do and eager to reach out to the next generation."

For more information about the DIY Satellite Workshop and other programs at Capitol, contact Meghan Young at 301-369-2555 or e-mail mayoung@capitol-college.edu.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014